ST. BONIFACE was born at Crediton or Kirton in Devonshire about the year 680, and at his baptism named Winfrid. When he was but five years old, his chief delight was to hear holy men converse about God and heavenly things. The edifying deportment and holy instructions of certain pious monks, who, being employed in preaching in that country, happened to come to his father’s house, gave him a strong desire to devote himself to God in a religious state; and though he was then only a child, the deep impressions which their words left upon his heart were never after effaced. His father exerted his whole authority to divert him from his inclination to a monastic life; till being visited by a dangerous sickness, he acknowledged in it the hand of God, chastising him for opposing his son’s vocation, which he from that time gave him free leave to pursue. Winfrid was educated from thirteen years of age in the monastery of Escancester or Exeter, under the holy abbot Wolphard. With the study of grammar he joined assiduous devout meditation, and the most rigorous observance of monastic discipline, even before he had professed that state; which he embraced before he left the aforesaid monastery. After he had spent there some years, the reputation of the schools and discipline of the monastery of Nutcell, 1 in the diocess of Winchester, under the learned abbot Winbert, drew him to that house. He made an extraordinary progress in poesy, rhetoric, history, and in the knowledge of the scriptures; and was afterwards appointed by his abbot to teach the same sciences: of which duty he acquitted himself with great fruit to others, at the same time improving himself in the sciences with that redoubled advantage which maturity of years and judgment, and a diligent review of a well-digested course of former studies give to masters of an elevated genius. At thirty years of age he was promoted to the order of priesthood; and from that time was chiefly employed in preaching the word of God to the people, and in the care of souls. Such was his reputation that he was intrusted by his superiors with an important commission to Brithwald, archbishop of Canterbury; by which means that prelate and the religious king Ina became acquainted with his extraordinary merit: and the bishops of the province from that time invited him to their synods, that they might be assisted by his learning and advice in their deliberations.
The servant of God, burning with zeal for the divine honour and the salvation of souls, never ceased to bewail, night and day, the misfortune of those nations which lay benighted in the shades of idolatry. In these holy dispositions, after having long implored the light and blessing of heaven, he, with the leave of his abbot, passed over into Friseland to preach the gospel to the infidels in 716. But for the trial of his virtue, a war breaking out between Charles Martel, mayor of the French palace, and Radbod, king of Friseland, threw insuperable difficulties in his way. However, he advanced as far as Utrecht, then the capital city of that country, and addressed himself to king Radbod, but without success: and he was obliged to return to his monastery in England. Winbert dying soon after, Winfrid was unanimously chosen abbot. He did all that in his power lay to decline this promotion, alleging that he was called to the conversion of infidels. Though he was not able then to prevail, he shortly after urged the same motive with such success, as to engage Daniel, the learned and pious bishop of Winchester, to procure that his demission should be accepted, and another nominated abbot in his place.
After having staid two years in England, he set out for Rome in 719, and presented himself to Pope Gregory II. begging his apostolic blessing, and authority that he might preach the faith to infidels. The pope, fixing his eyes upon him, asked him if he brought with him commendatory letters from his diocesan. Hereupon Winfrid delivered into his hands letters from the aforesaid bishop Daniel, by which he was strongly recommended to his holiness. Gregory having read them, and conversed some time with the saint, began to treat him with extraordinary marks of kindness and esteem, and gave him an ample commission to preach the faith to all the infidel nations of Germany. He bestowed on him many holy relics, and dismissed him with his blessing, and letters of recommendation to all Christian princes in his way. The holy missionary lost no time, but taking the road of Germany, crossed the Lower Alps, and travelling through Bavaria into Thuringia, there began his apostolical functions. He not only baptized great numbers of infidels, but also brought the Christians he found already established in Bavaria, and in the provinces adjoining to France, (especially the priests and bishops,) to reform many irregularities, and to live in a manner agreeable to the precepts of the gospel, and to the holy canons of the Church; for the commerce of the heathens had almost extinguished in them the sense of the pure maxims of their faith. Winfrid hearing soon after, that by the death of Radbod, Charles Martel was become master of Friseland, and that a door was there opened for the preaching of the gospel, he hastened thither, and during three years joined his labours with St. Willebrord to the great increase of the faith; till, understanding that St. Willebrord intended to make him his successor in the episcopal charge, he was alarmed, and left that mission. For his excuse he alleged that the pope had enjoined him a commission to preach the gospel to the heathens in Germany. From Friseland he went into Hesse and part of Saxony; and wherever he came, baptized many thousands of idolaters, destroyed temples, and built churches. He acquainted Pope Gregory with this wonderful success, by a letter which he sent by one of his fellow-labourers, and, at the same time, consulted his holiness upon several difficulties that occurred in his ministry. The pope gave glory to God, and congratulated him by a letter, in which he commanded him to repair to Rome. Winfrid immediately obeyed the order, and arrived there in 723. Gregory required of him a confession of his faith, as is usual with regard to bishops elect before their consecration. He likewise put to him several questions concerning his missions and converted countries, and after a few days ordained him bishop. Willibald says, that on this occasion the pope changed his rugged northern name of Winfrid into that of Boniface: but he could only confirm that change; for we find by the saint’s letters, that he then bore the name of Boniface: joining with it that of Winfrid. The saint took an oath to maintain the purity of faith, and the unity of the Church; a copy of which, written with his own hand, he laid upon the tomb of St. Peter. Pope Gregory gave him a book of select canons of the Church, to serve him for a rule in his conduct, and by letters, recommended him to Charles Martel, and to all bishops and princes wherever he should have occasion to travel.
The saint returning to his mission in Hesse, continued his spiritual conquests, and cut down a tall oak consecrated to Jupiter, the timber of which he employed in building a chapel in honour of the prince of the apostles. He founded many churches, and a monastery at Orfordt. The harvest growing daily upon his hands, he procured a new supply of labourers from England, whom he stationed in Hesse and Thuringia. In 732, Gregory III. succeeding in the pontificate, St. Boniface sent messengers to Rome, to consult him upon several difficulties. Gregory showed these deputies great respect, and sent by them a pall for St. Boniface, to be used by him only when he celebrated the divine mysteries, or consecrated bishops. He at the time constituted him archbishop and primate of all Germany, with power to erect new bishoprics where he should see it expedient. The saint went himself to Rome for the third time in 738 to visit the tombs of the apostles, and to confer with his holiness about the churches he had founded. The pope received him as a living saint, and appointed him legate of the apostolic see in Germany. Boniface on his return to that country was called into Bavaria by the Duke Odilo, to reform several abuses. Finding only one bishopric in that country, namely, Passaw, he established three others, Saltzburg, 2 Freisinghein, and Ratisbon, which division the pope confirmed in 739. The holy primate soon after established three new bishoprics, at Erford for Thuringia, at Baraburg for Hesse, since translated to Paderborn, and at Wurtzbourg for Franconia: he added a fourth at Achstat in the palatinate of Bavaria.
Gregory III. dying in November 741, his successor Zachary, upon application made to him by St. Boniface, again confirmed all he had done in settling the church of Germany. At that time happened a memorable revolution in France, in which that crown was transferred into a new family, fruitful in great princes and valiant heroes. Charles Martel, mayor of the palace, having governed France twenty-six years with great valour and prudence, having conquered Burgundy and Aquitain, humbled the Saxons, and often defeated the Saracens who made formidable invasions from their late settlements in Spain, died in 741, being fifty or fifty-five years old. Since the dignity of mayor of the palace was become hereditary, the title of duke and prince of France had been added to it. By the death of Charles, his eldest son Carloman became mayor and prince of Austrasia, or Lorrain, and that part of Germany which was then subject to France. He subdued Odilo and Thierry, the former duke of Bavaria, and the latter of Saxony, and made them tributary; but it was his chief aim to consult by peace the happiness of his people, to protect religion, and to cultivate the useful arts. He bent his whole authority to second the zeal of our saint in all his undertakings. Two impostors were stirred up by the devil to disturb the infant church of Germany. The one, Adalbert, a Frenchman, pretended to know the secrets of hearts, gave his own hair and the parings of his nails as relics, and wrote his own life, filled with absurd pretended miracles, enthusiasm, and pride. The other, called Clement, a Scotsman, rejecting the canons or the ecclesiastical laws, taught that Christ in his descent into hell delivered all the souls of the damned: he also held heterodox opinions concerning predestination. St. Boniface, in a council in Germany, condemned them both in 742; Carloman caused them to be confined in close prison, and the sentence of our saint and his council was afterward confirmed by the pope in a synod at Rome in 745. 3 St. Boniface held another council in 743 at Leptines, now Lessines, a palace of the kings of Austrasia, near Ath, in the diocess of Cambray. Prince Carloman finding him a man full of the science of the saints, and of the spirit of God, listened to his advice in all things relating to the salvation of his soul. By the saint’s pious discourses, his heart was daily more and more inflamed with divine love, till despising the world in the height of its glory, he recommended his estates and his son Drogo to Pepin the Short, his younger brother, and disengaged himself from all the ties of the world. He then went to Rome with a splendid retinue, and having visited the tombs of the apostles and other holy places of that city, and dismissed his attendants, he received from the hands of Pope Zachary the monastic habit, and retiring to mount Soracte, built there a monastery called St. Sylvester’s. The neighbourhood of Rome drew thither so many visitants, especially among the French lords who lived in that city, that to avoid this distraction, by the advice of the pope, he withdrew to mount Cassino, where he lived several years with great fervour and humility, as the author of the Chronicle of Mount Cassino, Eginhard in his Annals, and other historians of that age testify. He chose and discharged with great cheerfulness the meanest offices, often served in the kitchen, kept the sheep of the monastery, and worked like a day-labourer in the garden. In this he had before his eyes the example of many English-Saxon kings who had done the same. Ceolwulph, king of the Northumbers, to whom Bede dedicated his History, was the eighth among them who had then exchanged his regal crown for the cowl of a monk, taking the habit at Lindisfarne in 737, as Hoveden, Simeon of Durham, and Matthew of Westminster relate. In the same year Frisisgithe, queen of the West-Saxons, going to Rome, there took the religious veil. Carloman was doubtless encouraged by these heroic examples. Being sent into France for certain affairs of his Order, he died holily at Vienne in 755. His brother, Pepin the Short, became mayor of the palace for the whole kingdom, till, in 752, he was chosen king by the unanimous consent of the whole nation, when the removal of Childeric III. put an end to the Merovingian line of kings. 4 St. Boniface, as appears by his letters and various consultations, was timorous in decisions, nor did he appear as an actor in this delicate affair. Pope Zachary, as Eginhard, Otto, and others relate, upon the application of the states of the realm, answered, that it was better he should be king, in whom the whole supreme power and authority were lodged, 5 and in this decision all parties peaceably acquiesced; judging that the State could not have two kings at the same time. All writers conspire in giving the highest commendations to the princely virtues of Pepin, whose zeal for religion, and love of the Church and of holy men, could only be rivalled by his consummate experience, wisdom, and valour, by which he laid the foundation of that high pitch of power and glory to which his son carried the French empire. The new king, desiring to be crowned by the most holy prelate in his dominions, insisted upon the ceremony being performed by St. Boniface. This was done at Soissons, where our saint presided in a synod of bishops, and all the states of the French kingdom assisted at the coronation. St. Boniface in his first council in Germany, is styled legate of St. Peter. From the councils of Lessines and Soissons, he appears to have been legate of the apostolic see in France no less than in Germany. In 746, he entreated Pope Zachary to send a bishop legate into France, that he might be eased of that burthen. The pope refused to grant this request; but allowed him by a singular privilege, to choose whom he thought best qualified to be his successor in Germany after his death. The saint had been some years archbishop of Germany before he fixed his metropolitan see in any particular city. Cologne was at first judged the most proper, it being then the metropolis; but Gervilio, the bishop of Mentz, having been deposed in a council, that city was pitched upon in 745. Pope Zachary subjected to this new metropolitan church the bishoprics of Tongres, Cologne, Worms, Spire, Utrecht; also all those which St. Boniface had erected, and those which before were subject to the see of Worms, namely, Strasburg, Ausburgh, Constance, and Coire. Thus was Mentz made the metropolitan church of all Germany; for Triers was then comprised in France. Shortly after Cologne, and in process of time many other churches were raised to the dignity of archbishoprics, though in honour of St. Boniface, Mentz has always retained the primacy.
To assist him in planting the spirit of meekness and Christian piety in a fierce and uncivilized nation, St. Boniface invited over from England many holy men and religious women. Among these were St. Wigbert, St. Burchard, bishop of Wurtzbourg, St. Willibald, bishop of Eichstad, and St. Lullus: and among the holy virgins, were St. Lioba, our saint’s cousin, St. Thecla, St. Walburge, Bertigita, and Contruda, to whom he committed the direction of several nunneries which he erected in Thuringia, Bavaria, and other places. In 746 he laid the foundation of the great abbey of Fuld or Fulden, which continued long the most renowned seminary of piety and learning in all that part of the world. The abbot is now a prince of the empire, lord of a very extensive territory, and is styled primate of all the abbots in Germany, and chancellor to the empress. St. Boniface had several years before founded a monastery at Fridislar in honour of St. Peter; another at Hamenburgh in honour of St. Michael; and one at Ordorfe in honour of the same archangel, in all which the monks gained their livelihood by the labour of their hands. The pastoral care of so many churches did not hinder this holy man from extending his zeal to remote countries, especially to that which gave him birth. Ethelbald, king of Mercia, was a lover of justice, and liberal to the poor; but sullied these virtues by abominable lusts, abstaining from matrimony that he might wallow in filthy incontinency; and his scandalous example was imitated by many of his courtiers. St. Boniface, touched to the quick at the news of such scandals, in 745, wrote to this prince a strong remonstrance and exhortation to penance, putting him in mind how base it was for him to be the slave of lust to the injury of God, by whose benefit he ruled so great a nation; and how heinous a crime it was to set such an example to his subjects. 6 He tells him that chastity is so highly prized among the Pagan inhabitants of old Saxony, that if a married woman was convicted of adultery, or a virgin of fornication, she was strangled, and her body burnt; and he who had dishonoured her was hanged over her grave; or she was scourged on her back by women, and stabbed with knives, first in one village, then in the next, and so round the country, till she expired under her torments. “If Gentiles, who know not God,” says the saint, “have so great a zeal for chastity, what ought to be your sentiments who are a Christian and a king!” He puts him in mind of the unhappy end of his predecessor, Cœlred, and of Osred, king of the Northumbrians, both addicted to this shameful vice, and both snatched away by sudden death in the midst of their evil courses. From the gift of Croiland, mentioned by Ingulphus, and from the laws of this king in favour of the church, and of the abbey of Ripendune, Natalis Alexander, and some others, think he became a sincere penitent. He was slain soon after, in 755, by Beornred, a rebel, who usurped his throne.
St. Boniface wrote a circular letter to all the bishops, priests, deacons, canons, monks, nuns, and all the people of England, conjuring them earnestly to join in holy prayer, to beg of God, who desires that all may be saved, that he would vouchsafe, in his infinite mercy, to shower down his blessing upon the labours of all those who are employed in endeavouring to bring souls to his saving knowledge and holy love. He often desired books to be sent him from England, especially the works of Bede, whom he calls a lamp of the church. 8 He entreated the abbess Edburge 9 to send him the epistles of St. Peter written in letters of gold, to inspire carnal men with the greater respect, and to satisfy his devotion to that apostle, whom he calls the patron of his mission. Writing to the abbot Aldherius, 10 he begs that he would cause the sacrifice of the mass to be offered for the souls of those missionaries who were lately deceased. In several other epistles he mentions the mutual contract of charity between the missionaries abroad and the priests and monks in England, that they should reciprocally pray for their deceased brethren. In a letter to a nun, 11 he mentions how much he had to suffer in his mission from the Pagans, from false Christians, and even from ecclesiastics of debauched morals. Yet the ardour of his charity made him continually to thirst after greater sufferings, and especially after the honour of laying down his life for the love of him who died for us. In a letter to Cuthbert, archbishop of Canterbury, 12 treating of the duties of pastors, he says, “Let us fight for the Lord in these days of bitterness and affliction. If this be the will of God, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, that we may arrive with them at the eternal inheritance. Let us not be dumb dogs, sleeping sentinels, hirelings that fly at the sight of the wolf: but watchful and diligent pastors; preaching to the great and small, to the rich and poor, to every age and condition, being instant in season and out of season.” St. Boniface, in his homilies, most frequently inculcates the obligation and sanctity of the baptismal vows. 7
This apostle of so many nations thought he had yet done nothing, so long as he had not spilt his blood for Christ, and earnestly desired to attain to that happiness. Making use of the privilege which Pope Zachary had granted him of choosing his successor, he consecrated St. Lullus, an Englishman, formerly monk of Malmesbury, archbishop of Mentz, in 754, leaving him to finish the churches which he had begun in Thuringia, and that of Fuld, and conjuring him to apply himself strenuously to the conversion of the remaining idolaters. He wrote a letter to Fulrad, 13 abbot of St. Denys, begging him to make this choice of St. Lullus agreeable to King Pepin, and as his infirmities admonished him that he had not long to remain in this world, he conjured that prince to take into his favour and protection his disciples, who were almost all strangers, either priests dispersed in many places for the service of the church, or monks assembled in his little monastery, where they were employed in instructing children. He says that the priests lived on the frontiers of the Pagans, very poor and destitute, and that they were able to get their bread, but not clothing unless they were assisted. Pepin granted his request, and Pope Stephen II. confirmed his nomination of Lullus, and his resignation of the see of Mentz, in order that he might go and preach the gospel to those nations which still remained unconverted.
The saint, looking upon himself as devoted to labour in the conversion of infidels, and being at liberty to follow the call of heaven, would not allow himself any repose, so long as he saw souls perishing in the shades of darkness, and his extreme desire of martyrdom seemed to give him a foresight of his approaching death. Having therefore settled his church and put all things in the best order possible, he set out with certain zealous companions to preach to the savage infidel inhabitants of the northern parts of East Friesland. Having converted and baptized some thousands among them, he appointed the eve of Whit-Sunday to administer to the neophytes the sacrament of confirmation in the open fields in the plains of Dockum, near the banks of the little rivulet Bordne. He pitched there a tent, and was waiting in prayer the arrival of the new converts, when, behold, instead of friends, a band of enraged infidels appeared on the plain all in arms, and coming up, rushed into his tent. The servants that were with the holy martyr were for defending his life by fighting; but he would not suffer it, declaring that the day he had long waited for was come, which was to bring him to the eternal joys of the Lord. He encouraged the rest to meet, with cheerfulness and constancy, a death which was to them the gate of everlasting life. While he was thus employed, the Pagans attacked them sword in hand, and put them all to death. St. Boniface suffered in the seventy-fifth year of his age, on the 5th of June, in the year of Christ 755. With him were martyred fifty-two companions, of whom the principal persons were Eoban, bishop; Wintrung, Walter, and Adelhere, priests; Hamund, Strichald, and Bosa, deacons; Waccar, Gunderhar, Williker, and Hadulph, monks; the rest were laymen. The barbarians expected to have a great booty of gold and silver in the baggage of the holy martyrs; but found nothing in their trunks but relics and books, which they scattered about the fields, or hid in ditches and marshes. Some of these things were afterwards found, and of them three books are still preserved in the monastery of Fuld, or Fulden: namely, a book of the gospels written in St. Boniface’s own hand; a copy of a Harmony, or canons of the New Testament; and a third book, which is stained with the martyr’s blood, and contains the letter of St. Leo to Theodorus, bishop of Frejus, and the discourse of St. Ambrose on the Holy Ghost, with his treatise, De bono Mortis; or, On the advantage of Death. The body of St. Boniface was first carried to Utrecht, thence to Mentz, and lastly to Fuld, where it was deposited by St. Lullus, as the saint himself had desired. 14 It is to this day regarded as the greatest treasure of that monastery. The continuators of Bollandus have given us, under the title of Analecta Bonifaciana, a long history of an incredible number of miracles down to this present time, which have been wrought by God at the relics, and through the intercession of St. Boniface.
He who sincerely loves God, rejoices with this martyr to sacrifice to his honour his life, and whatever he has received of his bounty. With his whole strength he consecrates all his faculties eternally to the glorious and holy functions of divine love. He prays and labours without intermission that God alone may reign in his own soul, and ardently desires that all tongues may never cease to sound forth his praises, and that all creatures may have but one heart, always to be employed with the angels and blessed spirits, in doing his will, in loving him, and in glorifying his adorable name. There is no danger to which such a one would not with joy expose himself; nothing so difficult that he would not undertake, that one soul might be converted to God. He would rejoice to lay down his life a thousand times, were it possible, to hinder one offence against the divine majesty. Baronius 15 pathetically exhorts the Germans to consider what men their apostles were, and what were the maxims of the gospel they received from them; for with these their holy pastors and teachers, who will sit with the supreme Judge at the last day, they will be confronted and judged by them. 1
Note 1. This monastery was afterwards destroyed by the Danes, and never rebuilt. [back]
Note 2. The conversion of the Bojarii or Bavarians, is recorded by the author of the short history of that event, entitled Quomodo Boiarii facti sunt Christiani, written in 858, published by Canisius, (t. 2, Lect. Antiqu.) by Du Chesne, (t. 2, Franc. Script.) by Dubravius, bishop of Olmutz, (in Collect. Scriptor. Hist. Boëmicæ, p. 15,) and by Hansiz (Germaniæ Sacræ, t. 2, p. 35.) We have also a history of it in the lives of Rupert, St. Virgilius, and other eminent bishops of Saltzburg, published by Canisius. (Ant. Lect. t. 3, part 2, p. 282.) St. Rupert or Rodbert, pronounced Robert, was of the blood royal of France, and the zealous and holy bishop of Worms, who, in 699, preached the faith in Bavaria, and built at Juvavia or Juvava, now Saltsburg, a stately cathedral, an abbey for monks, and a nunnery called Nonberg, in which he appointed Edintruda first abbess, a holy virgin whom he sent for from his own diocess, and whose name seems English. St. Robert, in the decline of his health, appointed Vitalis bishop of Saltzburg, and returning to Worms, there died soon after in 718, on Easter-day, the 27th of March. Many miracles honoured his tomb. Aventinus places the mission of St. Rupert in 570: Mezgerus in 580, conformably to the popular tradition of the church of Saltzburg. But Mabillon, Valois, Hansiz, and Pickius produce strong proofs for deferring it to 696. Bernard Pez, in a letter prefixed to his edition of the Acts of St. Trudpert the martyr, endeavoured to confirm the date of Mezgerus; and was supported by Palignese, the historian of Saltzburg, and by Meichelbeck, Hist. Frising, t. 2, diss. 1. Hansiz made a solid reply, Respons ad epistolam Pezii, p. 7, and is followed by the most judicious critics.
This see of Saltzburg had been long vacant, when St. Boniface ordained one John bishop thereof in 739, St. Virgilius, an Irishman, coming through France, brought from King Pepin recommendatory letters to Odilo, duke of Bavaria, and was by his means made bishop of Saltzburg in 746, according to Pagi, or rather in 766. He planted the faith in Carinthia, and appointed Modestus first bishop of that country. St. Virgilius died in 784. Hansiz shows against Pagi, that there were not two in Germany of this name, and that this Virgilius is the same whose opinion about the Antipodes St. Boniface mistook as if he had taught another sun and moon, and another race of men who descended not from Adam, and were not redeemed by Christ; which would have been heresy. (Ger. Sac. t. 2, p. 84.) Thus we understand in what sense St. Boniface is said to have established or restored the bishopric of Saltzburg. That city rose from the ruins of Juvava, which was destroyed by Attila. In honour of St. Rupert, the archiepiscopal see was afterwards transferred thither from Lorch, or Laureacum, the ancient capital of Noricum. [back]
Note 3. Conc. t. 6, pp. 14, 15, and St. Bonif. ep. 138. [back]
Note 4. The Merovingian race, so called from King Meroveus, in whom the French crown was first made hereditary, filled the throne three hundred and thirty-five years, under twenty-two successive reigns of kings in Paris. The Carlovingian line, so called from Charles Martel, possessed the crown during fourteen reigns, and terminated in Lewis V. in 987, who died without issue. The nobility passing by his uncle Charles duke of Lorrain, chose Hugh Capet, son of Hugh the Great, the powerful count of Paris, who defeated Charles, and imprisoned him for life. The Capetian race of French kings reigns to this day, but was subdivided into two younger branches; the Valesian, which begun in Philip VI. of Valois in 1328; and that of Bourbon, which was called to the throne in Henry IV. in 1587, and was descended from Robert, fourth son of St. Lewis, count of Clermont, who marrying Beatrix of Bourbon, his posterity took that title. [back]
Note 5. The kings of France of the first race, from Clovis II. son of Dagobert I. in 643, to Childeric III. in 752, during ten reigns successively through a whole century, had given themselves up to an inactive life, and were sunk in indolence, never concerning themselves with the state, in which the supreme authority was intrusted to the mayor of the palace: and this magistracy was often the cause of wars, and became at length hereditary. Thus the kings were merely titular. This form of government was a source of continual factions, and other disorders, very prejudicial to the public weal. The crown, in all the barbarous nations which came from the North, was originally elective, as Robertson shows in his learned preliminary discourse to his History of Scotland; but among the French and most others it soon became hereditary. The constitution of the French government being become inconsistent with itself, on this occasion it was judged necessary to restore the original form, and for this purpose to transfer the crown upon him whom the laws of the state had already vested with the whole regal power and authority. Childeric III., surnamed the Stupid, having been titular king nine years, was shaved a monk at Sithiu or St. Bertin’s in 752, and died there in 755. On the answers of the two Popes Zachary and Stephen III., see Eginhard, (in Vitâ Caroli, M.) Otto, bishop of Frisingen, (in Chron.) Annales Loiseliani, Fuldenses et Bertiniani: Lambertus Schafnaburgensis, Ado, &c. Also Natalis Alexander, (Sæc. 8, diss. 2, p. 485.) Spelman (in Glossar.) F. Daniel, t. 1. Mezeray; Dom Maur, Chronologie Univ. &c. Afterwards Pepin professed himself penitent, and begged absolution of Pope Stephen III., if in this transaction he had sinned by secret ambition, or otherwise. See Mém. de l’Acad. t. 6, and Abrégé Chronol. de l’Histoire de France, par M. Henault.
How difficult soever it may be to excuse Pepin from taking ambitious steps to prepare the way for this revolution, as F. Longueval takes notice, (Hist. de l’Eglise de France, t. 4, l. 12, p. 352,) the case is very different as to the persons who only acquiesced in an unanimous resolution taken by those who were best acquainted with right and law in a succession, which till then seemed only hereditary under certain restrictions, as frequent examples in the French, English, and other new kingdoms, of the same original, from the northern transmigrations, show. Pope Zachary’s answer is said to have been, “Melius esse illum vocari regem, apud quem summa potestas consisteret.” (Annales Bertiniani ad an. 749. Eginhard, &c.) See Spelman in Glossar. The circumstances of the dethroning of Childeric, and of Pepin’s election, are related so differently, and the true history is so obscure, that it is easy for every writer to give it his own gloss. Eckhard (Comment. de rebus Franciæ Orientalis et Episcopatus Wirceburgensis, t. 2, Wirceburgi, 1729,) shows that St. Boniface had no share in this revolution nor even was pleased with it. Otherwise, he would rather have been sent on the embassy to Pope Zachary than Burchard, bishop of Wurtzbourg, and Fulrad, abbot of St. Denys. Nor would the authors of St. Boniface’s life have passed over such an occurrence under Pepin’s successors, or the saint been silent in his writings. Mabillon and Pagi place this revolution in 751; but Von Eckhard, more probably, in 752, in which the chronicle of Fontanelle (apud Du Chesne, t. 3, p. 386,) mentions the retreat of Theoderic, son of Childeric, who was sent at the same time to the abbey of Fontanelle in Normandy. That the election of Pepin was unanimous, and a transaction of the whole nation, and of all the powers that could be consulted in it, is proved in note 43 on Serarius Rerum Mogunticar, by Georgius Christianus Joannis. Francof. 1723, p. 332. [back]
Note 6. Parce ergo animæ tuæ, fili charissime, parce multitudini populi, tuo pereuntis exemplo, de quorum animabus redditurus es rationem. St. Bonifac. ep. 19, p. 76, et apud Gulielm. Malmesb. l. 1, de Gestis Angl. Regum. [back]
Note 7. A collection of St. Boniface’s letters was published by Serrarius in 1605; but out of the hundred and fifty-two of which it consists, only thirty-nine were written by the saint, the rest being letters addressed to him by popes, princes, bishops, and others. By his epistles it appears, that in all his designs and actions he had nothing in view but piety in the service of God. Dom Martenne and Dom Durand have given us a great number of other curious letters of St. Boniface, (Thesaur Anecdot. t. 9,) also nineteen homilies. In the fourth, St. Boniface speaking of the necessity of confession, says: “If we should conceal our sins, God will discover them publicly in spite of us. And it is better to confess them to one man than to be publicly exposed, and covered with confusion for them in the sight of all the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and hell.” (Hom. 4, p. 195.) We have in D’Acheri’s Spicilegium, t. 9, a collection of canons drawn up by St. Boniface for the direction of the clergy: also his sermon On the Baptismal Renunciation, published in Thesaurus Anecdotorum Novissimus, auctore D. Bern. Pez, Bened. abbate Mellicensi, Augustæ Vindelicorum. An. 1729, t. 3, parte 2, col. 3. The style of this saint’s writings is clear, grave, and simple. He everywhere in them breathes an apostolical spirit, and his thoughts are just and solid. The saint’s letters are all written in Latin, though, as Verstegan our most learned antiquarian takes notice, the language of the English Saxons, and of most parts of Germany, was then so nearly the same, that these missionaries seem not to have stood in need of interpreters. St. Boniface held at least eight councils in Bavaria, Thuringia, Austrasia, and Neustria; on which see Concilia Germaniæ edita a D. Joan. Fred. Schannat et P. Jos. Hartzeim, S. J. t. 1, sæc. 8, Coloniæ. 1759. [back]
Note 8. Ep. 9, p. p. 73. [back]
Note 9. Ib. 28. [back]
Note 10. Ib. 26. [back]
Note 11. Ib. 16, p. 75. [back]
Note 12. Ep. 105. [back]
Note 13. Pope Stephen II. was at that time come into France in 753, to implore the protection of King Pepin against Aistulphus, king of the Lombards, who threatened Rome itself. Pepin received him at Pont-yon, a royal palace near Langres, with the greatest marks of honour, met him three miles from his castle, prostrated before him, and without suffering him to alight, attended him on foot. The pope passed the winter in the monastery of St. Denys, where he fell so dangerously sick, that he was given over by the physicians; but was miraculously cured in the manner following: After prayers for his health, whilst he was alone in the church belonging to that monastery, he was favoured with a vision of SS. Peter, Paul, and Dionysius. This last told him he was restored to his health, and that he should return prosperously to his see, and bade him consecrate in that church an altar to God, in memory of the two apostles whom he there saw present. “I arose,” says the pope, “and finding myself perfectly restored to my health and strength, was for consecrating the altar that moment. But they that attended me thought I raved, and would not suffer me to do it, till I had related to them, and likewise to the king what had happened.” This the pope attested in a letter still extant. (Conc. t. 6, p. 1648, et apud Hilduin. in Areopageticis. See Anastasius, p. 1628. Mabillon, t. 4. Act. Ord. S. Bened. p. 304. Nat. Alex. Sæc. viii. Art. 6.) He granted many privileges to the abbey, and consecrated the altar, and left on it the pall which he then wore, to perpetuate the memory of his miraculous recovery. It is there shown to this day. This pope is highly commended for his piety and great alms-deeds, and cannot be suspected of a forgery. He is by some called Stephen III. because one of the same name was elected before him, but did not live to receive episcopal consecration. [back]
Note 14. The history of the dedication of the church of Fulda, and of the translation of the relics of St. Boniface, with the life of St. Eigil, the abbot who succeeded St. Sturmius in 818, and whose name occurs in the calendars on the 17th of December, is extant, very well written by Candidus, an eye-witness, and monk of that house. [back]
Note 15. Baron. ad Ann. 723, n. 16, et ad Ann. 775, n. 30, t. 9. [back]
Butler’s Lives of the Saints